On Saturday, 29-year-old Brittany Maynard took her own life. The move was not unexpected — Maynard suffered from terminal brain cancer and had publicly stated that she planned to end her life on Nov. 1, but following through on the decision has once again put the national spotlight on assisted suicide.
A statement released by Compassion & Choices, an organization that has supported Maynard’s initiative, read, in part:
“Brittany suffered increasingly frequent and longer seizures, severe head and neck pain, and stroke-like symptoms. As symptoms grew more severe she chose to abbreviate the dying process by taking the aid-in-dying medication she had received months ago. This choice is authorized under the Oregon Death With Dignity Act. She died as she intended — peacefully in her bedroom, in the arms of her loved ones.”
Maynard first expressed her intention to die in an early Oct. YouTube video, which has now been viewed more than 10 million times. Since posting the video, Maynard has checked items off of her bucket list (such as visiting the Grand Canyon), said goodbye to loved ones and advocated for Death with Dignity (DWD) laws.
According to an obituary released by her family, she believed “the freedom is in the choice. If the option of DWD is unappealing to anyone for any reason, they can simply choose not to avail themselves of it.”
In a second video message released days before her death, Maynard indicated that she herself might delay taking the lethal medication.
“I still have enough joy and I still laugh and smile with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time right now,” she said. Ultimately though, she chose to end her life as scheduled.
On Sunday, PBS NewsHour Weekend reported on the “right to die” movement.
What impact Maynard’s very public death will have on policy remains to be seen. There is certainly potential for change — more than half of Americans support physician-assisted suicide while only three states other than Oregon (Montana, Washington, and Vermont) currently allow the practice. But the topic has not been prominent in the current election cycle. There are no ballot initiatives directly addressing the issue and only one related “right to try” proposal being taken up in Arizona.
That said, Maynard’s campaign has undoubtedly renewed the debate about so called “right to die” provisions in the U.S. Reactions have poured in from all sides.
Maynard’s family, however, appears to fully support the decision, calling it “well thought out and informed.” They add that, “[Brittany] left this world with zero regrets on time spent, places been, or people she loved in her 29 years.”